The Custody Clock How Long Does the Waiting Game Last in Texas

Have you ever been so anxious about the outcome of an event that you couldn’t stand to wait any longer? Maybe it was a medical test that you underwent, and the results would tell you if you needed to undergo therapy or treatment of some sort. Or maybe you took an examination in school and the results of the test would tell you where you would be going to college. Sports fans know that the journey towards a championship season carries with it twists and turns over the course of a regular season schedule which can last for months on end. 

All these expectations and the difficulties in waiting for an outcome are magnified when it comes to a child custody case. There are so many components to this type of case that you will need to be mindful of. The case itself is not pleasant. You are dealing with courts, judges, lawyers, the law itself, your co-parent, and tough circumstances. Next, the case will cost you time. Time away from your child, from your other interests, and your work. Finally, a child custody case will cost you money. How much money? That depends on several other factors, as well. 

In the end, you want your child custody case to finish up quickly and for your goals to be reached. Too much to ask? Maybe so. In business, there’s an expression: whatever you are trying to build will take twice as long as you expect, will cost twice as much money as you expect, and you are not the exception to these rules. That’s not to say that these things will all apply to your family law case, but it is possible that you could be underestimating the length of a case. How can you handle the wait and keep your eyes and mind focused on your goals?

That is what we are going to discuss in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. The timeline for a family law case can go in multiple directions depending on several factors related to your family. However, what we are going to do today should provide you with some peace of mind as you dive into the world of child custody. Once you know how long your case can take, the steps involved, and other expectations then you can better plan the case and set reasonable goals for yourself and your child.

How does a child custody case begin?

You and your boyfriend have just broken up. You were thinking about marriage but that is out of the question. The two of you share a five-year-old son. You’ve lived together since he was born but your boyfriend moved out last week into his place. It’s weird to think about a man you’ve been dating for years as just your “co-parent” but that’s what he is these days. Now that you all are starting to think more about how to divide up parenting time/responsibilities you are interested in finding out how the family courts can help you and your family figure all this out. 

Beginning a child custody case means coming up with goals. Although it may feel like it, having your main goal be just getting out of your case in one piece is not good enough. Rather, you need to have real, tangible goals that can make a difference in the life of your child. A judge will make decisions in a case that are based on the best interests of your child. That is also how you should approach your goal setting. What would be in your child’s best interests? Sometimes this is not the same thing as wondering what is in your own best interests. 

Do you want to be the primary conservator of your child and determine where your child lives during the school week? What about child support? If your child has a major medical need then you may need to negotiate out-of-pocket medical expenses alongside child support. Does your child have a great relationship with his father and with you? If so then you would want to ensure that the possession schedule that is ultimately decided upon will facilitate him being able to spend meaningful time with both of you. 

Goal setting is all good and well but if you don’t know where to start when it comes to this topic then you should not feel alone. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan understands the position that you are in. On the one hand, you want to do what is best for your child. On the other, you are not an expert in family law by any means. You have so much going on in your life that it is going to take a lot of effort just to brainstorm these goals for your case. Fear not- the experienced attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to assist you. We, and a free-of-charge consultation, are just a phone call away. 

A petition in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship is the actual first step towards accomplishing your child custody goals. This is the formal name of the document that you would need to file in a family court to begin the case. A Texas family court gains jurisdiction over your case when you, your child, or your co-parent has lived in a county for at least 90 days before the filing of the lawsuit and in Texas for at least six months before filing the lawsuit. 

An Original Answer in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship will need to be filed if your co-parent beats you to the punch and files a Petition first. There is not much of a difference, in most cases, in being the Petitioner (person who files the lawsuit) and the Respondent (person who responds to the Petition). The important thing is to bear in mind that being intentional, having goals, and then working in the best interests of your child is what matters most. 

Mediation- don’t take it for granted 

The most widely held belief that parents tend to hold regarding a child custody case in Texas is that, ultimately, the judge will decide your case. In the minds of many Texas parents, they are going to drag their case before the judge in a big courtroom and the judge will decide those issues which are most important to your family and your child. Hopefully, the judge has a good head on their shoulders because he will be deciding how the next several years of your family’s lives are going to look. Is this how it ends up being for most people in a Texas child custody case?

Fortunately, no, this is not how your family law case is likely to wind up. The reality of the situation is that you and your co-parent are much more likely to decide your case in a more collaborative environment known as mediation. Mediation involves both of you selecting one third-party mediator to help the two of you reach conclusions in your case and settle on the issues that are most important to your child. Mediation usually takes place at the mediator’s office where the two of you can go into separate rooms with your attorneys. The mediator acts like a ping-pong ball, bouncing back and forth between your rooms to help the two of you reach a settlement on as many issues as possible. 

The issues that you can settle are written down within a document known as a mediated settlement agreement. This agreement will act as the basis for the temporary or final order of your case, depending upon what stage of your case you are in. Along the way, you and your co-parent will rely on your attorneys for advice but should also be working towards understanding the issues of your case yourselves. You are not hiring an attorney so that he or she can make all decisions for you in a case. Rather, you are hiring an attorney to be able to lean on him or her to help you learn about the law and how it interacts with your family’s circumstances. Then you can make wise decisions. 

Finding an attorney with the heart of a teacher

When you think about similar professions you probably would not immediately think about teachers and lawyers. Teachers have smiling faces and take on challenges associated with educating the youth of our nation on a wide range of topics. They aren’t paid as well as attorneys, in most cases, yet work hard to fulfill a huge role in our society. Teachers shape generations of children and take satisfaction in that rather than a hefty paycheck. When we think of teachers this is what I think of, at least. 

However, you need to look for an attorney who knows the law but can also help educate you on the issues that are most important to your case. We call this having the heart of a teacher. Have you ever been around a salesperson, attorney, or other individual in the professional world who just seems to be out for themselves? This person doesn’t listen to what you have to say but pushes forward with their positions and seemingly in their interests first and foremost. The legal profession is full of people like you. You would be best served to avoid these folks and focus on attorneys like those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our attorneys will pursue your goals, advocate for you, and educate you on the decisions that you are making so that you can feel confident in your case. 

What happens in the middle of a child custody case?

So far, we have discussed what happens at the beginning of a family law case. Now we can get into what happens when you are in the middle of a child custody case. The nice part of a child custody case is that there is no clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. When you go through a divorce in Texas you know at the beginning that your case is going to last at least 60 days. However, there is no minimum length of time for a child custody case. Theoretically, you would file your case and have it done in a month if you and your co-parent would make that work. 

Right now, I can almost sense eyebrows being raised across the Houston area in unison. So, if it is possible for a case to be done that quickly we may as well talk about how to quickly end your child custody case while not sacrificing your goals. Of course, not every family law case is going to allow for the parties to finish their matter in only a month. This would be a great goal to have but in some cases, this will not be possible. The disagreements will require prolonged negotiation. Or, even if you and your co-parent are on the same page it may be that you all need to use the child custody case for a trial run to make sure that your visitation or possession plan will work well. Or, your co-parent may simply not be willing to engage in good-faith negotiations. 

All these factors can seriously lengthen a child custody case. The trouble is that you only have so much control over the case and if your co-parent will not negotiate or if the circumstances are not right then you will not be able to settle the case quickly. If you want to be able to test the waters and determine if a faster child custody case is possible then you should talk to your co-parent once the case is filed. From there you can determine if you two will be able to settle on the issue at hand. 

The middle of a child custody case ends up being whatever you and your co-parent make it out to be. If I were going through a child custody case, there are parts of the case that I would focus my attention on a great deal. Here are those areas and how they can create a more efficient and successful child custody case for you and your family.

Making your child custody case more efficient

If you want to make your child custody case more efficient then you need to be intentional about how you make decisions. So many people who go through child custody cases do so without really thinking through their situation. Rather, these folks will make decisions without being intentional. Reacting to that day’s events as the primary means to plan in your case is not wise. Rather, it is a better idea to bear in mind a few different goals for your case and then act under those goals. 

For instance, if you have a major concern about ensuring that your child has a manageable child custody schedule then this is something that you need to focus on. Talk with your co-parent about this from the beginning of your case. It may be uncomfortable, it may not be pleasant, but it is necessary. On the one hand, if you talk with your co-parent about these issues early on then you can determine whether you are going to be able to settle on them. Better to find out early that he or she is not willing to budge and that you need to get to mediation sooner rather than later. 

All this advice is tailored towards not having any wasted days in the case. The last thing that you want to do is look back at your child custody case and see that you spent time worrying about non-issues, and fighting about small issues all while losing time in discussing the most important subjects of your case. We know that it is not easy to talk with your co-parent about your child. This may be the main reason why the two of you are going through a child custody case now. 

However, remember that your relationship with your co-parent is just beginning even if your romantic relationship is coming to an end. The more civil, businesslike, and professional your approach is the more likely that your co-parent will have a similar reaction to you and your negotiations. Do not expect him or her to act civilly towards you when you are overly aggressive and difficult to negotiate with on their issues. The more peaceful you can be during the case, the better. However, once you see that your good attitude is not being returned in kind by your co-parent then you need to take steps to protect yourself and your family moving forward.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody lawsuit. 

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